Posted on December 1, 2009 · Posted in Siyavula

The goal of Siyavula is to ensure that teachers in South Africa have access to a comprehensive set of free and open educational resources that are curriculum-aligned and sustainable. Key to the effective roll-out of such a project is ensuring that the project aligns with the needs and realities on the ground.

How is Siyavula going to achieve its goal?

The short answer is we will enable the appropriate use of technology to support the formation of new and enhance the process of existing communities of practice of teachers that share, adapt, develop, enhance and redistribute resources.

Simple Education System Schematic

A simple schematic of the education system shows how the curriculum is determined by the Department of Education (DoE) and then propagates through the provinces, districts and ultimately to the Curriculum Advisors who are charged with ensuring and supporting its delivery in the classroom. When we look at the landscape of teachers we find that the majority of teachers feel overwhelmed by the task ahead of them. Issues like insufficient support, resources or training contribute to this and makes them feel isolated.

We do find groups of teachers (communities of practice) that come together to share resources, discuss curriculum and content and support each other. These groups swap and share information, resources and support. One notable feature of these groups is that they often seem to be formed by reasonably well-resourced teachers, so the access to resources is not the sole driver for their existence, and the sharing of information and support is important too. Sharing is fundamental to teaching and a core part of teachers’ values.
To enhance the effectiveness of groups and support the isolated teachers, given the the ideas Siyavula is building on, we need to provide:

Online learning materials Curriculum Community / Workgroups
  • Online repository
  • Accessibility
  • Online tools
  • A curriculum framework
  • Vetting roles for experts
  • Community tools
  • Support
  • Enhanced sharing

This will allow Siyavula to create a framework that supports the education system. The framework needs to accept the curriculum, allow swap-and-share groups the ability to share resources and have the discussions they need, allow users like Curriculum Advisors to vet resources and ensure that the isolated teachers can get access to the resources.

Siyavula as a Framework

One of the beautiful features of using a web-based platform to support the sharing is that the teachers who are creating material aren’t impacted by others downloading it whereas, with paper resources, they’d need to produce extra copies, transport them and actually push their content out. Now the resources can be accessed when and as needed with no extra work required by the original author.

To support as many teachers as possible from the launch of the project, Siyavula has acquired a set of curriculum resources which teachers can use, adapt, print and enhance in addition to adding their own resources to the project. The material that Siyavula has acquired so far covers:

  • Foundation phase – workbooks for all learning areas in English and Afrikaans
  • Intermediate phase – workbooks for all learning areas in English and Afrikaans
  • Senior phase – workbooks for all learning areas in English and Afrikaans
  • FET phasetextbooks for Physical Science and Mathematics

The acquisition and sharing of this content allows Siyavula to engage with teachers as a sharing partner, in contrast to seeking donations of content in good faith or adopting a pure advocacy role.

Over time isolated teachers will also begin to share resources back, ensuring that their latent knowledge, especially around context challenges, starts to be shared, and then either form their own communities or join existing ones so that we eventually have communities of practice that are adapting and enhancing resources for all the imaginable contexts that exist within the South African education system. The wide variety of contexts is something that the traditional publishing model is unlikely to address and requires very localised and specific knowledge. This enabling feature of OERs is likely to have even more of an impact than the cost savings that are possible.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.